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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pick-Up Game: Pittsburgh's Newest Sport Is Competitive Litter Collection

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Courtesy of Friends of the Riverfront
Volunteers for Friends of the Riverfront participate in a trash clean-up last year on the Eliza Furnace Trail.

If there’s a chore to do, make a game of it: That’s advice Greg Manley hopes will work with cleaning up trash.

Manley has created Pittsburgh’s newest sport — competitive trash removal. It's a joint project of Allegheny Cleanways and Friends of the Riverfront, and it's called Litter League.

It started, perhaps unsurprisingly, as a way to keep for Manley to keep himself occupied during the pandemic. After the lockdown began last year, Manley, who lives in Fineview, began recruiting neighbors for Monday-night community cleanups.

“It seemed like a safe way to reconnect with people and do good at the same time,” said Manley. “Monday was my day to get out and about on the town!”

Manley has a background in offbeat games. For a couple years, he was director of City of Play, a nonprofit that staged alternative sports and other activities, often outdoors and mostly for adults. He disbanded the group in late 2019. Manley was looking for work in the environmental field and learned that Allegheny Cleanways and Friends of the Riverfront were hiring a community-outreach staffer to help distribute some 1,000 litter-pickup kits, including buckets, gloves and grabbers.

“It seemed like a natural idea to me to kind of turn this outdoor activity into something more competitive and more exciting that could involve weekly challenges, league standings, and prizes,” he said.

The Litter League – complete with a logo spoofing the Major League Baseball logo – will involve teams of up to 10, drawn from communities or workplaces. Squads will report weekly on their collections by posting photos of what they’ve gleaned from sidewalks, roadsides and wooded areas. Teams can scour wherever they wish, either individually or as a group. Allegheny Cleanways will provide maps of local litter hotspots participants can visit if they choose.

Teams will be ranked in categories including most litter collected, furthest distance traveled, and best reporting. Each week will also bring special challenges, like introducing one’s team with a series of videos, or making sculptures out of trash.

The season starts on Earth Day – Thu., April, 22 – and continues though the June 21, the summer solstice. (Manley knows from experience that hot weather is not ideal for harvesting litter.) However, teams can join the process whenever they wish. Winning squads will be eligible for prizes including tickets to shows or sporting events, which Manley assumes will become more common as COVID vaccinations progress and the year moves on.

Manley acknowledges that trash cleanups are not inherently competitive. But, he adds, “once you get a sense of who you’re competing against, and it gets close, then maybe you try to pick up a little more the next time!”

The team registration fee of $250 covers the cost of 10 cleanup kits. The Litter League is also seeking corporate sponsors.

For more information, see the Friends of the Riverfront website or contact Manley directly at greg@friendsoftheriverfront.org.